Monday, October 11, 2010

Talking Dirt – Book Review

I have recently finished reading the book Talking Dirt by Annie Spiegelman the self appointed Dirt Diva. I found this to be a very good book for gardeners of all levels, from those starting to think of starting a garden through to seasoned green fingers. The style of the writing is witty and casual with lots of online references sprinkled through it (which makes it good as an e-book), each plant that is recommended is given a “Whaa-whaa” rating based on their merit and the dependant care required, a rating of 1 is good while plant with a Whaa-whaa rating of 10 should be avoided.talkingdirt

There is an excellent section on composting which really breaks down the theory and science of growing great soil. The text also covers both all of the topics key to planning, growing and maintaining a sustainable garden. I consider this to be an excellent book for anyone interested in the subject. I am finding myself dipping into it as I plan out my seasonal planting and preparations in my own garden.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Now We’re Jamming

This is my second post on preserving the bounty of summer, this time it is that sweet favorite jam. Jam is a perfect way to preserve most summer fruits and give them a reprise during the winter months. In my last post I mentioned that i had also purchased a flat of strawberries at the farmers market, well I kept you hanging on for a while but this is the story of what I did with them. It also taught me a lesson about taking my wife to the farmers market and opening my big mouth. While walking around the market I spotted a Rose Scented Geranium plant, this is a plant I had been searching for, a quick squeeze of the leaves and the air is perfumed with rose.  ATTOFROSE2“Why do we need that?” my wife asked, and i explained that the leaves had many culinary applications including flavoring  and was especially good in strawberry Jam. I bought the geranium and a little further down we found a stall selling organic strawberries $20 per flat. Well I should say my wife found the stall and pleaded with me to make jam. Why should I have kept my mouth shut? well walking through a crowded farmers market with a flat of Strawberries and and flat of Tomatoes with a Geranium perched on top was a bit too much hard work for a hot Sunday afternoon.

Anyway back to Jam. Jam is simply softened fruit, boiled to a gel with sugar. The main problem is the pectin and acid levels of your fruit and Strawberries are low in both and need some help. You can make your own pectin stock using fruits with high pectin and acid simmered gently in water for an hour and strained however it is often easier to buy the powdered pectin and mix according to directions with your jam ingredients.

For my Strawberry Jam I used the following basic recipe

  • 1Kg Strawberries hulled with the large ones cut in half (I like good chunks of fruit in my Jam)
  • 950g Sugar
  • Pectin as instructed on box
  • 150ml lemon Juice (provides an acid boost)

Put 200g of the Strawberries into a large pan with 200g of sugar. Crush the Strawberries lightly, I use a potato masher but a fork will do. Put the pan over a gentle heat and when the fruit mixture is hot put in the rest of the Strawberries.

Heat gently stirring to agitate the fruit and bring it up to simmering point. Simmer for 5 mins then put in the rest of the sugar. Stir gently to prevent the sugar from sticking.

Add Lemon Juice then increase the heat when the mixture reaches a full boil keep it there for 8 or 9 mins. You can then test for setting point by dropping a little onto a cold plate (carefull very hot sugar mixture) and leave for a few mins, then test to see if it is setting, if you can run your finger through it and it wrinkles and leaves clean plate behind then you are good to go. If not boil for another couple of mins and try again.

Remove from the heat and stir gently until all the froth has dispersed, a little knob of butter can help this process. You are now ready to jar.

Jam needs to go into warm sterilized jars. The best way I have found is to place the clean dry jars into a low oven (150c/300f) for about 15 mins.  Put the lids in freshly boiled water.

Photo Oct 10, 1 19 00 PM It is always a good think to perk up your Strawberry jam, I put in about 5 tablespoons of Balsamic vinegar into mine along with the lemon juice to make a rich deep tasting a colored jam. If you have a rose scented Geranium then chop a few leaves and throw them in with the lemon juice.